"Umi Says" as written by and Dante Smith....
I don't wanna write this down
I wanna tell you how I feel right now
I don't wanna take no time to write this down
I wanna tell you how I feel right now, hey

Tomorrow may never come
For you Umi
Life is not promised
Tomorrow may never show up
For you Umi
This life is not promised

I ain't no perfect man
I'm trying to do, the best that I can,
With what it is I have
I ain't no perfect man
I'm trying to do, the best that I can,
With what it is I have

Put my heart and soul into this song (yes yes)
I hope you feel me
From where I am, to wherever you are
I mean that sincerely
Tomorrow may never come
For Umi
Life is not promised
Tomorrow may never appear
You better hold this very moment very close to you (right now)
Very close to you (right now)
So close to you, So- close to you (your moment in history is right now!)
Don't be affraid, to let it shine

My Umi said shine your light on the world
Shine your light for the world to see
My Abi said shine your light on the world
Shine your light for the world to see
(I want black people to be free, to be free, to be free)
My Abi said shine your light on the world
(Want black people to be free, to be free, to be free)
Shine your light for the world to see
(Want black people to be free, to be free, to be free)
My Umi said shine your light on the world
(Want black people to be free, to be free, to be free)
Shine your light for the world to see
(Want black people to be free, to be free)

Sometimes I get discouraged
I look around and, things are so weak
People are so weak
Sometimes,
Sometimes I feel like crying
Sometimes my heart gets heavy
Sometimes I just want to leave and fly away [fly fly fly, like a dove]
Sometimes I don't know what to do with myself [ow!]
Passion takes over me
I feel like a man
Going insane
Losing my brain
Trying to maintain
Doing my thing
Hey hey hey hey hey
Put my heart and soul into this y'all
I hope you feel me
Where I am, to wherever you are
Sometimes I don't want to be bothered
Sometimes I just want a quiet life, with
Me and my babies, me and my lady
Sometimes I don't want to get into no war
(Black people to be free, to be free)
Sometimes I don't wanna be a soldier
Sometimes I just wanna be a man, but

Umi said shine your light on the world
Shine your light for the world to see
My Abi said shine your light on the world
Shine your light for the world to see
(I want black people to be free, to be free, to be free)
My dreamers said shine your light on the world
(Want black people to be free, to be free, to be free)
Shine your light for the world to see
(Want black people)
My elders said shine your light on the world (Hey hey)
Shine your light for the world to see

I want black people to be free, to be free, to be free
All my people to be free, to be free, to be free
Oh black people to be free, to be free, to be free
Oh black people to be free, to be free, to be free

That's all that matters to me

Black people unite and let's all get down
Gotta have what,
Gotta have that love
Peace and understanding
One God, one light
One man, one voice, one mic
Black people unite come on and do it right
Black people unite come on and do it right
Black people unite come on and get down
Gotta have what,
Love, peace and understanding
One God, one voice, one life
One man, gon' shine my light
Black people unite, now hop up and do it right
Black people unite, now come on and do it right
Yeah baby that's what I like
Yeah baby that's what I like
Yeah baby that's what I like,
Black people, my people


Lyrics submitted by nsxdriven

"Umi Says" as written by Dante Smith

Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

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Umi Says song meanings
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  • +2
    General CommentThis song is such a passionate, spirit-filled expression of the need for Black people everywhere to wake up to what's "really" going on and for us to get our sh-- together. I get so emotional when I hear, think of, and talk about this song that I can't even began to compose an interpretation worthy of it's greatness. I did however run across this paper by a Berkeley student (?), that does a great job of breaking the song's meaning down. I thought it was worth sharing.

    C o m p o s i n g F r e e d o m:
    The Politics of Possibility
    in Black Struggle
    By Cameron Patterson
    Faculty Mentor: Professor Ula Taylor

    With a catalog rich in lyric texture, Smith’s Black on Both Sides addresses an array of social issues tied to the political ecology of our world, but in a blues-toned piece entitled "Umi Says," (Umi being a reference to Smith’s mother) he offers something akin to introspective notes on freedom at centuries end–something prayerful like A Love Supreme. As a diasporic freedom song that articulates a vision of the sojourn toward freedom as a means by which we gain some irrevocable sense of fulfillment, and that highlights the connection between what is spiritual and what is political, "Umi Says" fits squarely within the scope of a radical faith-ontology. This song is one which in coping with a history of dislocation, seeks solace in a sense of home gained through freedom struggle. Here the diasporic is expressed through a consciousness of black peoples constant movement and desire for freedom. It is imagined as a spiritual and political "landscape wherein the desire to be free is the tie that binds and creates continuity" across a diversity of African world cultures. Elaborating on this conception through song, "Umi Says" is one example of how progressive Hiphop artists are contributing to an ongoing discourse that challenges the way we think about freedom and its possibilities in our time.

    Smith begins this piece by evoking a sense of intimacy between artist and audience, singing, "I don’t wanna write this dooown/I wanna tell you how I feel right now/I don’t wanna take no time to write this down/I wanna tell you how I feel right now…." Making the choice to freestyle explicit, Smith motions a sort of candid and endearing gesture which lets the audience know something important is going to be shared. In listening to this song one gets the impression that Smith has stepped off stage, if you will, and is about to speak from the heart as though he were revealing something to a close friend. Emphasizing the importance and immediacy of time, Smith continues:


    Tomorrow may never appear/You better hold this very moment, very close to you, [right now!]/Very close to you [right now]/So close to you, Soooooo clooose to you, [your moment in history is…Now!]/Don’t be afraid, to let it shine…


    The inclusion of Smith’s overlapping and oft-echoing voice–enclosed above in brackets–adds to the meaning of his words, making a significant aspect of the content in Smith’s song one which connects agency to self-expression within the import of a moment. The relevance and impact of ones actions is always calibrated by the social context in which the decision to act is made. History teaches this, but history is often ghettoized, seen as little more than congeries of yesterday. This conception of history is dangerous, for as Smith reminds us "tomorrow may never appear," and if we dismiss history we are left in the wilderness without a compass. A triune conception of time allows a relationship with history that enables our growth and our ability to act with forethought and anticipation. In stressing the importance of shining light within the present, Smith challenges us to acknowledge and act within the significance of a specific time: now. His words remind us that to hold the present close is to live courageously and maximize ones potential without clinging to the spirit of a previous age or investing oneself in a future that is not promised. This emphasis on agency in the present is important when we consider it from a standpoint within the politics of possibility and black people’s ongoing struggle for freedom; a struggle which was defined during the Civil Rights Movement in two words: "Freedom Now!" By insisting on the need to shine light, Smith establishes the importance of investing ourselves in the constant redefining of the social world.

    The chorus to "Umi Says" plays like the modern rendition of a black spiritual. Combining passionate lyrics with a contemporary mixture of rhythms, this section of the song is highlighted by Smith’s incessant call for liberation. A desire which shatters the notion that we live in a free world by boldly asserting the world’s "unfreedom" and therein problematizing current conceptions of freedom. Smith’s lyric prose broadens the prospects of a radical discourse on freedom that is rarely explored by throwing spirituality and politics into sharp relief. Juxtaposing these ideas while employing language that evokes a sense of familial intimacy, Smith transforms "Umi Says" into a diasporic freedom song of rising intensity.


    My Umi said shine your light on the world/Shine your light for the world to see/My Abi said shine your light on the world/Shine your light for the world to see/I want black people to be free, to be free, to be free/All my people to be free, to be free, to be free/That’s all that matters to me…


    The use of light as a metaphor that ties creative self-expression to spirituality and agency in struggle, sets up an implicit contrast between light and dark that alludes to what Cornel West calls the "night side of American reality"–that oppressive truth which is known most thoroughly by those gifted with "second-sight." This contrast calls our attention to Robin D.G. Kelley’s typology of light metaphor. His thoughts waxing on the words of Thelonious Monk, who says, "It’s always night or we wouldn’t need light," Kelley connects light imagery to black struggle through song, writing: "…We absolutely need light: the light of social movements (‘I’ve got the light of freedom’), the light of hope (‘facing a rising sun/of a new day begun’), the light of spirit (‘this little light of mine/I’m gonna let it shine’)." This need for expression is part of what Stewart describes as black spirituality, and for Smith it is crucial to sustaining a hope in the possibilities of freedom.

    If "language is community" as Morrison asserts, and community creates a sense of home, then Smith’s words call for a diasporic community that finds comfort in freedom struggle–one that understands its power, and does not fear the spiritual as a political act. As illustrated in Smith’s language, the ideological imperatives constituting a radical faith-ontology are key elements in the formation of this community. By shining light: the light of spirit, the spirit of freedom–in the world, on the world, and for the world to see–we offer something of ourselves to humanity.

    In the remaining verses of "Umi Says", Smith sings a personal lament. He describes a series of emotional lows that paint a picture of despair, hopelessness and doubt. The desire to escape, to quit, to retreat and forget the struggles of black life–a momentary disillusionment characteristic of the blues–is ardently expressed when Smith shares,


    Sometimes I just want a quiet life, me and my babies, me and my lady/Sometimes I don’t want to get in to no war/[Black people to be free, to be free, to be free]/Sometimes I don’t wanna be a solider/Sometimes I just wanna be a man, but/Umi said shine your light on the world/Shine your light for the world to see… [emphasis added]


    Here, Smith frames freedom struggle within the context of war. But by equating participation in emancipatory black struggle with shining light, he cast the creation and public sharing of art, of creativity in spirit, as an essential element in the practice of freedom. This is an important point in "Umi Says" because it marks a critical transition in the tonal and narrative structure of the song from one of disempowered sorrow to culturally politicized determination. What unfolds is a lyrically galvanizing freedom song that conspicuously calls attention to the global "unfreedom" of black people while implying a certain responsibility to freedom struggle. Smith’s words evoke the feeling that we must shine light not just because of our own interest in freedom, but because of our mothers and fathers, and what they have done to make freedom a political reality within the ever-changing context of our world.

    By creating a vision of diasporic community engaged in freedom struggle and expressing that vision through song, Smith constructs freedom as a creative process that demands our collective energies and our commitment to a political life that is sustained through the hope and possibility in shining light. In Smith’s song "home is not a place but a condition–felt only when there is freedom of movement and expression. It is the seeking that is shared, not what is found"–or, as Zora Neal Hurston puts it, "The dream is the truth." "Umi Says" reminds us of the dream; it helps us think of home in terms of the possible and reminds us of why the caged bird sings by affirming the diasporic as an act of will and memory. Through the journey we realize that home is a freedom song on the cusp of dawn.
    arianmay405on December 04, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Comment"It makes me wish my skin colour was dark so that i could be a part of what he's singing about."

    That's a super ignorant thing to say. If you want to be oppressed and constantly have to fight against racism and stupid things that white people say (which is what the song is about)....then, please be my guest!
    aggravatoron September 13, 2006   Link
  • +1
    My Opinionthis song is unreal.
    buggie92on December 01, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is basically about living life to the fullest.
    maybe you don't have everything you want
    but you work with what you have.
    and you should just hold those great moments close to you.
    Kutentamenon June 10, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is so powerful. It makes me wish my skin colour was dark so that i could be a part of what he's singing about. It's mesmerising...
    celestiaon June 13, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentOne of the most beutiful songs ever.

    Nuff Said
    D4MVPon June 27, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentGreat, great song.
    omnivoreronon September 28, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is awesome. It's funny how many hip-hop bashers are quick to post trash on 50 cent songs, however, they have not made the journey to artists such as Mos Def, who represent hip hop in its most pure form.
    "one man, one voice, one mic"
    eYeKeyon February 26, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Commentits songs like this that separate mos def from the best mc's.
    willlliwon December 04, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe song is amazing. Iv'e been a hip hop fan all my life and used to listen to mostly mainstream untill I realized that the materialistic shit they talk about is irrelevent and dosent fully make you happy. When i came across Mos Def i realized that this is me, this is real, this is Hip-Hop in its pureist form.
    We're living in a corrupt Nation, it's hard to stay sane when your faced with fakes and phonies who are all out for themselves.
    Hip-Hop is for the real people out there that can see past the everyday bullshit, and be able to vibe with true self-expression in its most pureist form.


    One Love World
    hiphopoptimisticon April 27, 2008   Link

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